CHAPTER ONE: THE F*** TRIP TO CHICK-FIL-A
6:20 AM: Get the kids dressed & James out the door!
I softly mouthed the obscenity, dragging it out for three seconds. My bare foot throbbed in pain. I didn’t see Rubble, one of my two-year-old son’s plastic Paw Patrol figurines, because I was too busy scrolling my iPhone and looking for my Amtrak email confirmation. (After you have kids, all curse words have to be uttered behind their backs, in your mind, or mouthed softly. Of course, this infuriated me even more.)FUUUCCCKKKK!!!!”
“Mommy, you sqwuishe Rubble. He’s sqwuishe,” my son West barely said. But I speak two-year-old fluently, so I knew what he meant.
I cracked a smile at his statement of the obvious, but as I limped into my bedroom, the smile turned to a groan. “Maybe if these FUCKING kids put away their GOT DAMN toys, my FUCKING foot wouldn’t be in pain!”
I woke up on time every morning. The worst-case scenario is plus or minus 10 minutes. But every morning, everyone else in the house would expect 10, 15, or 20 extra minutes to sleep. As if we had the luxury of time on THIS particular morning. Thirty minutes later, their routine began. And every damn day, I could count on all of them (my husband James, my five-year-old daughter Maya, and West) to get their asses ready as if they forgot what actions they were supposed to take to get ready from when they did the same thing on the previous day.
If I was late for that motherfuckin’ train, somebody was gonna GET it!
My thoughts were interrupted by another offspring.
“Wait! I can’t find Anna,” Maya whined. “I had her in bed last night, and now I can’t find her!” She conjured the acting skills necessary to win a landslide Oscar—sobbing and panting in tandem. I wanted to yell, “WHY THE HELL DOES ANNA’S WHEREABOUTS MATTER AT THIS MOMENT? GET OUT THE DAMN HOUSE! YOU CAN’T EVEN TAKE THE TOY TO SCHOOL, ANYWAY!” Instead, I gritted my teeth.
“Mommy will look for Anna and have her on your bed when you come home.”
Every morning…the same.
First, their procrastinating asses started by moving slower than King Syrup poured from a bottle in the midst of a blizzard. Then, they finished with a rush through the hallway like the theme song from The Benny Hill Show was playing in the background. Even when I scheduled “what ifs” for the pussy-footing posse—or as I endearingly liked to call that time block, “Fuck Up Time”—we were always late. In the course of the morning routine, Maya always lost an Elsa sneaker, West always wanted two bowls of oatmeal, and James always needed to use the bathroom RIGHT before we walked out the door.
One morning, I stuck West in my bed because we had a few moments to spare. As he laid there, I noticed he had a mild fever and was panting in my ear. I leaned into him, looking at his face while muttering to myself: I forgot what this means when he starts panting like crazy. What is—
and he vomited in my face.
What could I do but stand there and take it? If I moved, vomit would just spread all over the bedspread. All I could do was what I have always done: curse in my head with rage. “What the fuck is it with these children? All this whining and coughing and shit. Do they have polio? Am I raising kids in the middle of the fucking Great Depression? Fuck!”
I continuously searched for ways to make the morning routine run smoother. I once even tried implementing a routine with Maya I found on one of those “perfect mom” websites, hoping to expedite the disastrous morning routine in the Carter household. I know you KNOW what a “perfect mom” website is. A landing page of lies devoted to a gospel preached by other mothers. Its primary creation is to make you feel like a piece of shit.
This particular routine was posted by one of those dumb ass mothers who patiently let their kids get dressed by themselves in the morning, considering it the perfect opportunity for them to gradually master getting ready independently. It suggested something like this:
Open the child’s door in the morning, turning on the hall light while you get ready. The light and noise should help to wake them up slowly. Once you’ve gotten yourself ready for the morning, go in and pick them up out of bed. Carry them to a comfortable place to sit and cuddle. (They’re most likely still dozing or just waking up.) While holding them, talk about what they dreamt last night, what they want to do today or anything that’s happening with friends or school or fun, for the next five to ten minutes. Focus on fun stuff, to look forward to during the day! You’ll find they’ll join the conversation in no time! Then, afterward, play a game around getting dressed. Pretend it’s a race! Competition is a fantastic motivator for children. 😊
When I initially read it—with a straight face mind you—I thought, “Are you fucking serious? I. Don’t. Have. The. Time. For. That. Shit.” Nevertheless, I gave it a try. The routine actually played out with Maya as follows:
Open the child’s door in the morning, turning on the hall light while you get ready. The light and noise should help to wake them up slowly.
“Turn off the LIGGGHHHTTT!!” Maya screamed as she rolled the covers back over her face, sleeping for another 10 minutes.
Once you get yourself ready for the morning, go in and pick them up out of bed. Carry them to a comfortable place to sit and cuddle. (They’re most likely still dozing or just waking up.) While holding them, talk about what they dreamt last night, what they want to do today or anything that’s happening with friends or school or fun, for the next 5-10 minutes.
Maya doesn’t answer a damn question I ask. Not even, “Get up and go to the bathroom. Do you wanna pee on yourself when you get to school?”
Then, afterward, play a game around getting dressed—pretend it’s a race! Competition is a fantastic motivator for children. 😊
I dressed her brother first and yelled from his room, excitedly, “Look, Maya! West is getting dressed really fast! He’s a big boy! He’s about to beat you because he’s almost ready!”
“Getting dressed is not a competition, Mommy,” Maya quipped. “You shouldn’t rush, rush, rush through it,” she said, imitating someone running as she spoke. “It’s not like that.”
Well, damn. That worked like gangbusters.
“JAMES!” I yelled.
Ah, James. My hubby and baby daddy. James (also known as Handsome McHandsomekins) was with whom I legally shared the responsibilities of our children. (And shit, I should damn well have had his help as he was the other human being who contributed in their conception.) He was tall and dark, and I’d given him the nickname Handsome McHandsomekins when we first started dating in college. He’d kept a lean, fit frame since those days, and passed his long limbs down to our children. When we walked down the street, he was a direct contrast to my stubby, tan appearance.
Like every other morning in my life, from whatever ceiling I was currently under, I hollered, “James, can you help me OUT here? I gotta get to the train station!”
“I don’t have time! I have to get ready TOO!” he shouted back from the basement with his husky voice. No fail, James was, without question, the love of my life and my soul mate. Most importantly, he was my king. But in the decade I’d been living with the man, he had not adapted to my need for morning organization, routine, and structure. Sometimes I felt my role as a domestic concierge didn’t start when I had children; it began 11 years ago with James.
I huffed. “But I do? I have a meeting as soon as I hit the office!”
I started frantically squeezing my giant fun bags into a size medium sports bra. James sauntered up the basement stairs and into the kitchen. “BABE, WHERE ARE THE PLASTIC BAGS? I need to put Maya’s graham crackers in a baggie so…”
Now I was done.
This man spent so little time in the kitchen that he didn’t even know where most of the groceries belonged. In 11 years, he had cooked 10 times (and that’s a generous number). Five of those times were undercooked eggs and burnt hot dogs.
“FORGET IT!” I snapped, rushing down the stairs and into the kitchen. Grabbing a plastic bag from the cabinet, I started shoving graham crackers into it. I couldn’t help but mumble to myself: It’s marvelous that husbands believe these items “magically” replenish themselves each week. It’s as if they believe the Whole Foods fairy flies in their homes at night, gently placing sundries in their closets and groceries in their cabinets, leaving behind no traces of magical dust. I mean, Jesus; look for yourself every now and again. Is that so fucking hard?
My thoughts were interrupted by my Aunt Lisa’s car horn. She’d arrived to pick up Maya and West, taking them to school and her house, respectively. I naturally assumed I’d shed a thug tear if James left me, but I’d downright “slide-down-a-bathroom-door-R&B-music-video cry” if that older black woman ever left my life.
God, I was happy it was September. Summer was over, and these kids were out the door. But did that really even matter? Today was still a day like any other. I was there to help all my family start their own day on the right foot, but as usual, no one ever helped me with mine.
8:45 AM: Head to work!
By the grace of God, the pussy-footing posse didn’t make me late for the Acela Express from Baltimore to New York. I drove into the city, arriving at Baltimore’s Penn Station before the iPhone alarm went off. My OCD loves when that happens.
I loved coming into the heart of the city, leaving my judgmental and uppity-ass neighborhood. It’s ironic. I worked so hard to move into that colonial cage, and albeit giant, I missed living in downtown Baltimore with its diverse culture and authenticity.
Would you look at that, I pondered to myself. Other grownups- er, I mean ADULTS. Grownups is a kid word. I felt a release as I thought, look at all these adults just waiting to have adult conversations!
I was excited to return to society as Christine Michel Carter, the woman, and global communications strategist. I genuinely loved my job and my family equally, but I gotta tell ya, sometimes my traditional-colonial felt like a prison. My ankle bracelet malfunctioned at 8:45, and miraculously I could leave the house for ten hours to converse with grownups.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend more time in Ubers or on Acela trains than in actual meetings. It also wasn’t unusual for me to be in an entirely different state during business hours, and yet I still had to be home by six p.m., picking my kids up from Aunt Lisa’s. Today was no different. I was headed to NYC to interview La La Anthony for an upcoming Forbes piece on the rise of female crowd funders.
I purchased my Amtrak ticket and headed to the platform. While waiting for the train, I decided to scroll Instagram. Someone had reposted a quote from Annabel Crabb:
The conundrum for working mothers is an exact one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.
Tell me about it, I chuckled inside.
NYC was quickly becoming a home away from home. Between speaking at conferences and podcasts and TV interviews, I found myself making this commute every month! For today’s trip, I decided to meet a personal goal: talk to one stranger for an hour. A feat easier said than done, as I usually liked to sit alone in first class. I could be found in a corner, knees facing the window, replying to Instagram comments on my page. Unbothered.
Not today, Carter. I boarded the train and shuffled side to side, moving to the first-class car. As I looked around, I saw open pairs of seats and pinched my arm to remind myself of my goal. I must sit with someone.
“Is this seat available?” I asked what appeared to be a forty-something white man, his slim frame decked out in an Express Men’s finest suit.
“Please, sit down. I’m just reviewing some notes,” he responded.
“Hi, I’m Christine.” My voice cracked.
“Christine? Henry Reshin. Pleasure.” He greeted me with a confident smirk.
Shit, this is hard.
“Henry, what’s taking you to NYC?”
“I’m speaking to students at the Stern School of Business,” he said. “Last year, I wrote a book on financial planning; you know, setting yourself up for success in the future. A friend of mine who’s a professor at NYU asked me to speak to his class.”
Damn, Henry. How many “I’s” and “me’s” can one fit into a sentence? No, Christine, no! I barked to myself as if I were a puppy. This man is NOT Trump; he did nothing to you. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
It’s my opinion that when one receives an advanced degree, the university also gives you an optional stick to put up your ass. From the looks and tone of Henry, he had decided to let his stick start paying rent up there.
I turned on my iPhone, and Henry glanced at my screen. @CNBC’s Instagram post appeared—news about Facebook with a picture of Sheryl Sandberg.
“Oh, you’re a fan of Sheryl Sandberg?” Henry asked.
“Nope,” I replied a little too quickly for Henry’s taste.
Dammit. Why couldn’t he have seen a picture of Michael B. Jordan instead? He wouldn’t have asked me questions about that. I explained why I answered abruptly:
“I understand Lean In is heralded in the workforce community, but I sadly find it difficult to see myself in her experience. As a black millennial mother, I’m unable to ‘lean in’ with as much ease as she did—even with the high amount of visibility, I have to the leadership team at my company. And though I respect and applaud Sandberg for pushing the corporate feminist agenda, she was in a high-level, high-profile position and therefore could do so.”
“She seems smart. You don’t find her credible?” Henry questioned as if I was going against my own kind. Truth be told, Henry’s arrogance made me feel he was gonna argue whatever point I made.
“Sandberg easily establishes credibility, but she isn’t relatable. I’m trying to juggle the same aspects of my life as she was—parenting, career, and marriage—and I read her book in the hopes it would provide solace. But as a quadruple minority in my workplace, I just can’t identify my experience in Sandberg’s. When she started ‘leaning in,’ she was well into her thirties and serving as Google’s vice president of global online sales and operations. Before that, she was the chief of staff for United States Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers!
Oop! Boo, you didn’t know she was smart, did she? I giggled internally.
“When one has those titles on their résumé, leaning in isn’t the hardest thing ever. But try that when you’re entry-level. She, of course, shouldn’t apologize for going to Harvard, working in Silicon Valley, etc. But shit—I sure as hell didn’t. If my black ass took her advice and ‘leaned in,’ the next place you’ll find me leaning anywhere is over a counter at Burger King to clarify an order.”
Dammit, Christine! Too ethnic too soon. Be woke, but don’t be another angry black woman.
We switched facial expressions; his smile slid down his face and right up to mine. But the truth is that, unlike Henry and the Sheryl Sandbergs of corporate America, most of the time I was the only black person in the room. I was usually the primary target for ethnic and mansplaining. I always stuck out like a sore thumb.
What was it about the Henrys of the corporate world that made me feel like an impostor? After all, my résumé spoke for itself: I’d spent over a decade in marketing, supporting executive leaders at innovative, category-leading companies. I spoke at national conferences and regularly contributed to Forbes, covering working parents, millennial women, and black millennials.
I could write articles all day long for my readers; my tribe. But I had the receipts of men that looked like Henry commenting on pieces, calling me a “shit starter” and a “black bitch.” Comments like that—no matter how confident I’d like to be—only exacerbated my impostor syndrome.
My cell phone rang.
“Excuse me, Henry; I have to take this.” I swiped to answer the call. “This is Christine.”
“I just got a text from CVS. Maya’s prescription is ready. Can you pick it up?” James asked.
I turned to the train window, my back facing Henry. “James, I thought the purpose of you getting the texts was so you could help me out and pick up the prescription on your lunch break. You know I’m on a damn train to NYC!” I stealth-whispered into the phone.
“Never mind. I’ll do it when I get back,” I answered, smashing the red circle with my pointer finger. Why he doesn’t have the time to run errands, but somehow, it’s fair for me to do them, I’ll never understand. He needs to figure out how to do it during or after work to just like I do!
8:00 PM: Dinner on the table!
My chances of stress eating were never higher than when I came home after a workday. Every evening, I struggled to figure out what to cook for dinner after I had already raced around the beltway, picking up my kids. I cooked from Sunday to Thursday, but each night I pondered: What did I buy this week that James and the kids will be in the mood for? What awful shit did I eat last night that I now need to counterbalance? How long will it take to cook? And on and on and on.
Tonight, I simply gave up, yelling, Fuck it! I took the kids to Chick-Fil-A.
Sure was gonna miss my nighttime glass of wine, though. That was the one problem with Chick-Fil-A. If they figured that shit out, they could have all the coins. Being a working mother of two taught me I CAN do all things through Christ, but I MUST do all things with the help of Sutter Home. In short, when it came to dinner, I was a huge fan of having a glass of wine during—
scratch that, after—
scratch that, before—
Fuck it. I was a huge fan of having a glass of wine anytime during the evening meal experience. I tried to keep a healthy diet, which included watching my alcohol intake. After all, I know the facts: women who drink in moderation are less likely than non-drinkers to be obese. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t drink moderately. In fact, I was once asked by a doctor if I drink rarely, moderately, or heavily.
“Parentally,” I replied.
The funny thing is, though not a real answer, he understood just what I meant. Parentally drinking is the fine line between moderately and heavily. And I didn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Why? Two reasons: 1.) That freaking beverage tasted delicious, and 2.) I had three kids, who were five, two, and 31 years old.
Kudos to the mothers who clutched their pearls, waving their paper fans while saying, “Oh, I detest mothers who drink, and drink around their children at that. Vile!”
Bitch, not only did my kids KNOW I drank; they knew it made Mommy a little less Betty Draper and a little more Betty Crocker. Maya could point out what “Mom juice” looked like in a kitchen cabinet, but she wasn’t stupid. When I once asked her, fully relaxed from a glass of cabernet sauvignon, “Do you know what Mom juice actually is?” Maya replied, “Of course, Mommy. It’s alcohol.”
Parking the truck at Chick-fil-A, I got everyone out of their car seats (all the while sarcastically begging them to move at a more glacial pace like Miranda Priestly). Suddenly, I heard:
It was my friend Melanie! A FRIEND! I saw a friend during the work week! Do you know how rare that was? Well, not really. It seemed like moms always saw friends across the aisle in a grocery store picking up applesauce, as opposed to across the booth in a bar drinking Old Fashioneds. Still, I considered this divine intervention and asked:
“Heyyyy, Melanie! What are you doing? Picking up dinner for you and Cara?”
Cara was Melanie’s well-behaved daughter with her husband, Kevin. She always used manners when asking for ketchup to accompany her chicken nuggets. She was the exact opposite of my children. In fact, Maya was the Bizzaro to her Superman daughter.
“Yeah, just me and Cara,” she replied. “We just went to see the latest Avengers movie. Have you seen it yet?”
“Naw.” At the beginning of motherhood, I tried to hold on for cool points when people asked, ‘Have you heard that new rap group?’ or ‘Have you seen that new movie?’ Still, the time had passed and snowballed so quickly. I hadn’t ever heard albums from some of my favorite artists or seen movies well into their sequels.
Melanie leaned in, lowering her voice so Maya and West couldn’t hear. “You know I separated from Kevin, right? A few weeks ago.”
In a second, my mind raced with negative thoughts, wondering how broken her family was going to be without both parents in the household. Wondering how long it would take for Cara to turn from a respectable, polite young girl to a spoiled terror. I was shocked.
“NO, I HADN’T,” I exclaimed, a little too loud. I felt like a self-involved, horrible friend. As she explained the course of events that lead to her separation from her husband of eight years, I tilted my head to the side and nodded in agreement. Somehow, the whines of my children asking to go inside to eat were stifled. All that existed at that moment was Melanie and me.
“We just weren’t connecting anymore, you know? We drifted apart. I don’t know. Maybe it was because we got married too young or had a child too soon, but it just became clear that I was the doormat of the house. Unappreciated. I was miserable every morning and…”
I worried to myself…that sounds familiar! But I maintained my concerned expression and listened.
“The biggest sign was that I was confiding and sharing my feelings with someone other than Kevin. It was giving me that feeling of being appreciated, accepted, and just like… acknowledged, you know? I was a human again, instead of just a mom and wife. But later, I learned in couples counseling that it was no different than an affair.”
I groaned, “I’m so sorry to hear that, Mel. I know motherhood and marriage aren’t always easy…” I blanked, having zero idea what to say next. Shit. What should I say to offer comfort?
“I mean…” I shrugged. “I constantly read articles about other wives and mothers who’ve experienced the same thing you’re going through. No one’s perfect. Life isn’t pleasant all the time, but striving for it will pay off in the end.”
Melanie looked at me, puzzled, tilting her head as she closed her eyes, sighed, and smiled. Shit. Did I say something wrong? Could she see through me? I was usually THE pillar of support for everyone around me. I was the woman with the answers.
“Did you need any help with the kids in there? Just you? Where’s James?” Melanie asked.
Uuuhhhh…I decided to quickly cut the awkward tension with my built-in diversion—my badass kids.
“No, I’m good. Listen, honey, I gotta get Maya and West their dinner. I’ll call you a little bit later, okay?”
With that, Melanie hugged me goodbye.
10:00 PM: You need eight hours. Take your ass to sleep!
Night peeing was the best.
Unfortunately, when you’re as much of a fan of controlling every aspect of your life as I was (my iPhone home and lock screens were my daily gym routine and caloric intake), necessary human acts that fluctuate throughout the day—such as peeing—often go ignored. Sometimes I didn’t pee for hours when I was in the zone, writing a presentation.
Enter the self-care moment that was “night peeing;” my one moment of privacy. Night peeing was the act of using the bathroom entirely in the dark, so that no one knew I was in it. I usually brought my phone (oh so sanitary, I know), scrolling “black hair braids for work” on Pinterest.
This particular night, I was found out. Mid-piss, I looked up and found an eerie three-foot figure standing in the doorway with his feet apart. He breathed heavily, staring at me like Michael Myers in Halloween.
“Yes, West?” I asked. Can I unwind for a MINUTE?!
“Tukmein,” he demanded. As if I didn’t tuck him in hours ago.
“Okay, one second. Where’s Daddy?”
“YOU! You Tukmein!” he grunted again.
God forbid you disturb your father. James could rest but me…I hadn’t gotten a full night of sleep since Barack Obama’s first term as president. Because that’s when I didn’t have kids. I could charge money to watch James sleep at night; he slept so comfortably. And after more than a decade together, the man still hadn’t learned how to share a bed. He grunted, snorted, and swung more limbs at me as he slept than a male gorilla. Then, he actually had the nerve to be irritated and hurt when I asked him to stick to his side of the bed! Every night he sweated so atrociously the pillows smelled like dirty nickels. Even with sheet-suspenders on the bed, I could never keep covers on my side. His limb swinging snapped them off the sheets when he rolled himself up like a cozy, massive Twinkie.
“I’ll be in your room in a minute,” I scream-whispered to West, a hidden talent that came with motherhood. West stared at me for a minute before walking off and leaving the door wide open behind him. I dropped my head to my knees.
I sang to myself,
“This is the job that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend. Some people started having kids, not knowing what it does, and they’ll continue having kids forever just because…”
I chuckled. My world was pure chaos. A fucking mess. It was funny to think about the single people who believed getting married and having kids meant doing the same thing day in and day out.” HA! I WISH that shit were true. Between last-minute grocery store trips for chicken nuggets, emergency “West has an ear infection” calls from Aunt Lisa, and unexpected evening work events—my weeks became unpredictable AFTER I got married and had kids!
But that night, I couldn’t get Melanie’s expression (after my half-ass words of comfort) out of my mind. What made my life so different from hers? I was an exhausted professional, wife, and mother to TWO kids. Every day I busted into rooms just in time—not one minute early—like Kramer into Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Hell, I always drove twenty miles over the speed limit, just to get from point A to point B. But still, I was late once or twice a week.
Maintaining this amount of energy to do everything I needed to do (with erratic but necessary bursts on top of that) was exhausting. I doubted that I was doing an excellent job at motherhood, and yet I doubted I would ever say I needed help.
I am a woman with no control, I admitted to myself. I wanted the freedom to choose whether I wanted to play dress-up with my daughter or get a massage. (Sure, I’d probably choose to get the massage, but the minute I got to the spa, I’d just FaceTime Maya and ask her “What you doing?”)
I was killing myself so that others could live. Sacrificing everything.
I felt like Jesus Carter.
I wished the Whole Foods fairy DID exist. I wished there were someone who could help me with managing my life, my career, my children, and myself. Someone who could handle the ridiculous moments, like cleaning the bathroom floor after West peed on it right before hopping into the bath. Or, moments when I was impatiently
waiting behind the woman at Target, who was compelled to argue about a ten-percent-off coupon’s expiration date.
But…isn’t all that what a husband is supposed to do? I questioned.
In the middle of scrolling, a text message appeared on my screen:
I deleted it and kept singing to myself.
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Featured in The New York Times, Christine Michel Carter is the #1 global voice for working moms. Called “the mom of mom influencers,” “the exec inspiring millennial moms”, a “mom on the move” and “the voice of millennial moms”, Christine clarifies misconceptions about these consumers for brands and serves as an amplifier of their personal truths. This includes everything from delivering consumer insights and brand marketing content to helping HR and diversity teams attract and retain these hardworking professionals. She is the best-selling author of “Can Mommy Go To Work” and contributor to several global digital publications, including Forbes, TIME, Harper’s BAZAAR and Parents. She has supported the awareness of government initiatives such as Senator Kamala Harris’ Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act and Black Maternal Health Week and created Mompreneur and Me, the first national mommy and me professional development networking event.